July 28 (UPI) — For the fifth year in a row, at least 1,500 people have died crossing the Mediterranean Sea in 2018 seeking refuge in Europe, the International Organization for Migration said Friday.
The U.N. agency said through Wednesday, 55,001 people have made the journey this year and 1,504 have died. That’s about half and two-thirds of last year’s totals during the same time period — 111,753 arrivals and 2,401 deaths. There were more than 250,000 arrivals in 2016.
More than half of this year’s deaths have happened since June.
The majority of this year’s arrivals were in Spain (20,992) and Italy (18,130). The number of migrants Italy accepted from 2017 to 2018 dropped by more than 80 percent. Last year, the country received 94,448 people.
Meanwhile, Greece and Spain both saw increases in arrivals compared to last year. Greece’s increased by 5,000 and Spain’s by nearly 15,000.
“As remarkable as Spain’s rise in irregular migration activity has been through 2018, even more important is its recent surge,” the IOM said.
“At this present rate, IOM believes irregular migrant arrivals by sea to Spain could well pass the total for all of last year — 22,108 — before this month’s end on Tuesday.”
The IOM report came as a Tunisian-flagged rescue ship spent its second week stranded in the Mediterranean carrying 40 migrants. France, Italy, Malta and Tunisia each have refused to allow the vessel, the Sarost 5, to dock.
The Sarost 5 rescued the migrants from a wooden boat in distress July 15 as it attempted to cross the Mediterranean from Libya.
The ship’s second in command, Aymen Ourari, told CNN the vessel has about three or four days’ worth of food left.
The Sarost 5 isn’t the first ship to find itself stranded at sea this year, unable to unload its passengers at a European harbor.
Malta’s and Italy’s new populist governments last month refused to admit the Aquarius, a rescue ship carrying more than 600 migrants. Spain agreed to let the ship dock — a move that could indicate why Italy’s arrivals have dropped while Spain’s has increased this year.
EU leaders said the centers would be set up on a voluntary basis to help distinguish between legitimate asylum seekers and undeserving migrants, who will be turned back.
Under the agreement, the screening centers will be located in countries where migrants first arrive. Nations in northern Africa were previously mentioned as possible sites.